Hey guys. Any big plans for this weekend? Nah, me either.
Yep. For the second straight Legacy Grand Prix in a row, I’m making the adult decision, considering my personal finances, and choosing not to attend. It’s led me to one specific, incontrovertible fact:
Growing up kinda sucks.
For a while, I was proud to be able to say that I’d attended every North American Legacy GP. It helped quite a bit that they kept putting them on my coast. Unfortunately, I missed Indy, and am soon to miss Atlanta—but there are certainly worse reasons for missing a tournament than buying your first house.
I don’t go out of my way to hide the things going on in my personal life that have impact on my Magic life. The last six months have been hands down the most hectic and exciting of my life, in both Magic and “real” life. While it may be old hat to many players living the “play the game, see the world” lifestyle, I think it’s likely that I have more in common with the “play the game, see game stores within a six hour radius of your house” crowd.
So, the fact that Magic brought me to Europe this year—less than a month after my other interests brought me to Iceland—would make it a banner year for me. Pile on my major steps into adulthood in home-ownership and family-starting, and you start to get the picture.
Did I mention we’re gutting the kitchen before we even move in? Yeah, no way I’m going to Georgia.
So, once again, I’ll be on the sidelines of this one, watching as a bunch of guys I know are playing my favorite format on camera. But surprisingly, I’m not bitter.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of the shape that Legacy has taken over the course of the past few weeks. While it’s true that there are a variety of archetypes performing well (as we can see from the startlingly large number of Elf decks in the Top 8 of SCG Detroit), I’m convinced that this is more of an anomaly than a genuine trend.
When a deck exists that is as powerful as Reanimator is right now, it’s hard for me to believe that something like Elves has the staying power to compete on that level. For that matter, I have a tough time with the idea that even Maverick has a real shot there.
When Flash was the Legacy deck du jour (and I’m not saying Reanimator is anywhere near Flash levels of power), the format turned itself into a picture perfect rock-paper-scissors metagame. Flash was rock, Fish was paper, and the scissors were made up of a bunch of decks that preyed on all the Fish and pretended they had a shot against Flash. Somewhat ironically, Trinity Elves and Goblins were two of these scissors decks.
In today’s Legacy, Griselbrand decks represent the rock. RUG Delver represents the paper—except RUG can never beat a Griselbrand in a thousand years. Maverick, Elves, Dredge, Goblins, Affinity—they all represent the scissors, preying on the decks that supposedly beat the Griselbrand decks. These decks, unlike the Goblins of the Flash era, have a realistic chance of beating Griselbrand.dec, which is more a product of the lower power-level of those decks in relation to the median power of the format. The best deck is slightly worse, and the worse decks are all quite a bit better.
Of course, things are never that simple, and RUG is a deck that will never stay down for the count. While it has a tough time with Griselbrand, if it can stop the deck from putting it into play in the first place, it has a tendency to just win while Show and Tell or Reanimator flail around trying to find the right pieces to their puzzle. While it can’t really deal with a Knight of the Reliquary after a few lands hit the bin, it can force Maverick into an awkward spot with removal and threats across multiple colors (to tie up Mother of Runes), and surprise the Knight with a Submerge.
Every once in a while, they press an advantage with a Delver, and get there despite the best efforts of the Maverick player. While they can’t interact with Dredge effectively in game 1, occasionally they do have the right answer at the right time two games in a row and take the match. As a master of no trades, and a Jack-of-them-all, RUG is the deck that never feels completely out of a game. There’s always a chance they just rip the right sequence of cards and come back.
In my Grand Prix experience with this format, you’re looking for three things out of a deck worth playing over 16 rounds:
First, you want consistency. A deck like Mono-White Stax may be objectively powerful against a number of top tier archetypes, with cards like Chalice of the Void and Trinisphere to lock them out of playing their cheap and efficient spells, but it has a lot of variance in its plays, and a real possibility of losing at least a few games per event to its own inability to manipulate the game state beyond the present board, the cards in hand, and the top card of its deck each turn. This is an issue that has plagued this style of deck since the dawn of Legacy.
A deck like Goblins, on the other hand, has much more redundancy and ability to manipulate the game to replicate the same set of scenarios, again and again. While this can be a repetitive deck to play across a number of events, knowing what each situation requires, and having a plan to approach them (along with the ability to execute that plan rather than letting the situation execute you) is what you’re looking for in a GP deck.
Second, you want power. If you’re doing something sweet, but it takes six cards and ten turns to do it, you’re playing the wrong deck. If you’re attacking for two every turn with a Dark Confidant while holding up a few soft counters, you may find that you’re behind in a large number of situations. Drawing extra cards is good, but it’s tougher to win via [card snapcaster mage]Snapcaster[/card] beats than it has been in previous iterations of the format.
There’s a reason no one plays ‘Tog in Legacy anymore. Each of the top tier decks is either trying to do something powerful themselves, like putting a [card griselbrand]Yawgmoth’s Bargain[/card] into play on turn 2, or making 1000/1000 Elves on turn 3, or putting their deck in the graveyard on turn 3—and if they aren’t, they’re playing the most efficient and effective ways of stopping those decks from doing so, while playing cheap and hard-hitting threats of their own.
Third, you want aggression. A lesson I learned the hard way in Barcelona this year was that in a format with a broad spectrum of decks, presenting the opponent with threats they must answer is by far a better plan than trying to answer each of theirs. The old “There are no wrong threats, only wrong answers” adage is as true as ever in Legacy, and the reason I don’t think playing a deck like Terminus control, or even the new vogue Land Tax is a realistic option.
I’ve cautioned in other articles of the perils of playing control in an open metagame, and I think most of what I said still holds true: in a metagame where you’re being attacked on as many fronts as you are in Legacy, there just aren’t enough slots in the deck to allow you to answer the strategy of every opponent you’ll face. What’s good against Sneak and Show is not good against Dredge, is not good against Elves. This is a giant obstacle to overcome, and you’re way better off just playing a Delver on turn 1 and attacking them to death, rather than hoping that your Enlightened Tutor target survives.
That’s right, folks—I said it. Enlightened Tutor is NOT where you want to be for this tournament. Now someone please prove me wrong.
If I were to show up in Atlanta Saturday morning and register a deck, there’s a high probability it would start with 4 Griselbrands. I think that playing RUG more suits my skillset, but the power of Griselbrand is too great to be denied, and unlike Caleb Durward, I could never convince myself to bring a pile of 1cc green creatures to a Grand Prix. Still have a fully foiled out Elf-Ball deck, though.
As a sort of amalgamation of Max Tietze’s and Gerry Thompson’s lists, this Reanimator brew has a variety of things that make it moderately different from the decks that tore up the Open Series for a few weeks. First, it includes a maindeck Elesh Norn, which is a concession to the increased number of small decks going aggressive in their pursuit of the combo or combat win. Elves can never beat an Elesh Norn. Goblins will have an extremely tough time doing so. Merfolk, if they ever show up, will probably either roll over you with a bunch of (now) 2/2s, or completely fold to it, depending on how early you can get Norn in play. Blazing Archon will usually do the trick in that matchup, however. Against Maverick, you’re probably going to need a number of things to go your way, so I’m hesitant to try and include an “I win” creature against them, although Iona goes a long way toward that in the post-board games.
Gerry also switched from an Exhume-heavy split to an Animate Dead-heavy one, for two reasons. First, the presence of the mirror makes Animate a boon and Exhume a liability, so the enchantment gets the nod. Second, the combo to protect Tidespout Tyrant (which I also feel is better than the Angel of Despair for this slot) is worthwhile. I’ve cut the ninth Reanimation spell (the first Exhume) for the fourth Ponder, compared to Gerry’s list, which I’m not sure is right.
In the board, the Deathmarks have been included to deal with a number of cards that have the potential to be problematic. These could also be Virtue’s Ruin or Perish, as both have applications against the cards you’re looking to beat (Knight of the Reliquary, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Scavenging Ooze, etc), but Deathmark can off any single one of them for cheap, regardless of how big the Ooze or Knight get. I admit this piece of technology is directly ripped off the TES boards I’ve seen floating around. While you can’t Wish for it, you’re just about as good (and possibly better) at finding it in a situation where you need it.
This list is a bit soft to Chalice of the Void, but it’s Legacy—that happens.
I believe Reanimator is a stronger option for the Griselbrand deck than Sneak and Show, because you’re about three turns faster and less reliant on a four mana sorcery speed spell. You’re also running less dead cards, and don’t need to peel when you can only drop an [card emrakul, the aeons torn]Emrakul[/card]. “Only.”
If I were convinced not to run Griselbrand, I’d be running the following:
It’s a fairly standard build of RUG Delver, with a switch away from the Spell Snare slots into a more aggressive Threshold list to increase the clock produced by Nimble Mongoose. Let’s be real—the Goose isn’t the powerhouse he used to be. The format has once again become too fast for a turn 4 3/3, even for one mana. However, accelerating the time it takes to achieve threshold can be beneficial, because a 3/3 shroud is still pretty good. Not great, but reasonable in a tempo deck. At the same time, Spell Snare is pretty bad. Oddly enough, it has gotten better over the past few weeks as Reanimator has become more popular, but it is nowhere near as good as it once was. It pitches to [card force of will]Force[/card] pretty well, though.
Note that there are FOUR Force of Wills in the deck list.
I’ve been on the fence about whether to switch to a black Delver list from red, but I haven’t come up with a good solution for the removal slots, and so I’ve abandoned it for the time being. That, combined with the blowout that is Ancient Grudge, makes it a fairly difficult switch. There are a number of decent BUG lists out there that have had not-bad results, so if you’re interested in that kind of thing, check it out. They do have a tendency to rip a hole in the combo sections of the field, so if that’s what you’re looking to do, BUG is how to do it.
One of the hidden advantages that these two decks present for this particular event is the ability to function completely on one or two land. After some testing, I’m not all that happy with any of the Land Tax lists I’ve come up with, but the new toy will tempt enough players to try it out that it’s something to expect for this event. Practically blanking their marquee weapon by existing in the one- and two-mana slots gives you a great advantage over that particular strategy.
The last deck I could be convinced to play at the Grand Prix is the following:
I like this list a lot. Deshaun Blaylock took it to a 5th place finish in Detroit, and aside from the sideboard—which needs more work than I’m willing to put into it—I think it has a lot of power against the present metagame.
My favorite thing about Maverick is how the existence of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben has turned it into a tempo prison deck, attacking the opponent as hard as possible while Thalia stunts their development. It’s as fair as a fair deck gets, but it can still pack an enormous punch against other fair decks by simply being bigger than they are. As it turns out, Knight of the Reliquary is a pretty awesome card.
Where I would start with the sideboard fixes revolves almost entirely around Enlightened Tutor. Get that garbage out of there. This deck wants to put men into play and turn them sideways, and relying on sacrificing one of your precious draw steps to get a card that doesn’t attack for damage seems like an enormous tempo swing in the wrong direction. I’d like to see something like a Loaming Shaman in that toolbox, along with maybe a real answer to Humility (which will be in those Land Tax decks I was discussing before). Krosan Grip is the likely choice, although Seal of Primordium/[card seal of removal]Removal[/card] would be a reasonable one as well. Oh, and in what world are we using Crop Rotation as a sideboard choice? I assume we bring it in as instant speed copies of Bojuka Bog against Dredge and Reanimator. I just don’t know that we’re really willing to sacrifice a land for it when we have the ability to run a card like Purify the Grave, which does nearly the same work at a much smaller opportunity cost than Rotation.
As I said, Legacy isn’t in a form that appeals to me these days, but I think that’s more of a product of my need to shift into the new Magic paradigm, rather than a fault of the format itself. There are a multitude of reasonable options for the discerning player, which I’m sure we’ll see on display this weekend. If you aren’t headed to Atlanta this weekend, be sure to tune in to the coverage—there ain’t no GP like a Legacy GP, cause a Legacy GP has style. The feature matches are always awesome, and I guarantee you’ll be entertained all weekend long. If you’re heading out there, best of luck—and remember, you only get to play one land per turn.
Bonus Elves Decklist:
While writing this article, Adam was listening to: Olde Crone – S/T